Michigan's Railroad Crossings Along Interstate 94

In 1873, the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad was completed between Lansing and Hillsdale, MI, passing through the town of Albion. The railroad was the clear cut state of the art transportation system of the day. 

Just over eighty years later, the Interstate Highway System was quickly overtaking the railroad industry's dominance in long distance travel. As early as 1940, this change would mean that the LS&MS's successor, the New York Central Railroad, would begin abandonment of the line between Lansing and Springport, the village north of Albion on the line.

Railroads would have to relocate their roads above newly-constructed highways, and highways would have to build around existing railroad property. 

For the most part in the US, this wasn't an issue, but this would come to a head in Albion, Michigan, where an at-grade crossing was built to accommodate the newly constructed I-94 in the late 1950's.

1959 picture of I-94 Railroad Crossing. Image: AlbionMich.com

This was a spot where two of my greatest interests, railroads and highways literally intersect. During construction of I-94 in the 1950’s, for a short time the New York Central operated one of a very few (if any other) railroad crossings on an interstate highway, just east of Albion, MI. 

Here's where the crossing was located near Albion. You can still see the trace of the right of way today on satellite imagery. This image comes from 1986, long after the crossing was abandoned. (Satellite Image: Jackson County GIS)

I have noted that this is an extremely unique crossing, and while railroad crossings do occur on limited access highways and freeways in the United States, even today, these do not occur on the Interstate Highway system.

According to an email we received from Tom Ketchum, I-94 had a second crossing around the Ann Arbor area. "The line from Ypsilanti to Pittsfield Township also crossed I-94 at grade. Both of these crossings featured the standard grade crossing flashers, and the round advance RXR signs, but also, full traffic signals and, before the advance RXR sign, another RXR sign, with yellow flashers, one above, one below, which activated with the crossing signals, which also prompted the traffic signal to go from green, to amber, to red. The I-94 crossings were grandfathered in, as the highway was built prior to the Interstate Highway Act, as a freeway for US 12, and, the two lines were, even then, infrequently operated branch lines." 

Wayne State University 1961 Satellite Image via Building Washtenaw. This is I-94 just west of US-23. North is obviously up in this image.

According to Albion Mich, "This created a traffic hazard when trains headed towards Springport to deliver coal and service the Springport Elevator Company. However, in the late 1960s, a natural gas pipeline was laid, with the piping being delivered by the railroad itself. This eliminated the need for coal to the village, which reduced the freight runs considerably."

The line today is abandoned, with only a small stretch within Albion still active as an industrial spur. It once ran all the way to Lansing. To date, I've had numerous people tell me that railroads cross interstates at-grade all the time, except in most cases, they're confusing non-interstate limited access highways with the Interstate Highway System.

While such a crossing is unusual, it is far from without precedent. Someone actually made a map of limited access railroad crossings, some of which indicate that other interstate highways have had railroad crossings, but it is an incredibly rare occurrence, but I still wonder if these crossings were active when the road was actually signed as an interstate. 

The Albion crossing, along with much of the LS&MS line, was abandoned by 1968. Today, a small industrial spur uses the former right of way in Albion. South of Albion, the old line is still in service between Litchfield and Hillsdale, MI, where the Albion-Litchfield segment was abandoned in 1943

Ketchum also noted that signing for the conversion from US-12 to I-94 occurred as early as 1959, although actual approval of moving 12 off of the freeway didn't occur for another two years, when Michigan was approved to move US-12 to the route of US-112, and eliminate 112. "This was prompted by I-94 being signed across the state, from Detroit to New Buffalo."

Thanks as always for reading!


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